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2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review – First Drive

Practical Motoring’s first drive 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell Think of the craziest cross-breeding of automotive tribes you can imagine. An off-road hot-hatch? Nope, too sensible. What about a family SUV that runs on methanol and turns nine-second quarter miles? Again, way too logical. So how about this, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk; a full-sized off-road SUV that swallowed the supercharged V8 from the revered Dodge Hellcat? The end result is a vehicle that could technically get you across the Gobi Desert , and, in the process, should you require it, get from rest to 100km/h in 3.7 seconds.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

Pricing $134,900+ORC Warranty Five years/100,000km Safety Not yet tested Engine 6.2-litre V8, surpercharged Power/Torque 522kW/868Nm Transmission Eight-speed automatic Body 4846mm (long) 1954mm (wide) 1749mm (high) Weight 2399kg Fuel tank 93 litres Thirst 16.8l/100km combined.

TO BE COMPLETELY fair about it, the concept of a hyper-car crossed with an SUV has been done before. But never before has it been done with such chutzpah. Okay, the AMG G63 probably gets closest in terms of both its intent and its sheer silliness, but even its 420kW are monstered by the Trackhawk’s 522kW. If nothing else, the Trackhawk proves that Jeep hasn’t lost its sense of humour.

Please note: We’ve held off giving the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk a complete rating until we’ve had a chance to drive it in the real-world…our time with it was limited to some short race track-based exercises.

What is the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk?

If the Trackhawk looks a bit familiar, that’s because the basic body has been around on this market since 2011. But while there have been performance-oriented SRT versions of the Grand Cherokee before now, there’s never been anything like the Trackhawk.

By `borrowing’ the 6.2-litre, supercharged Hemi V8 from the US-market Dodge Hellcat muscle-car, Jeep has created a mutant SUV with no less than 522kW of power and a gargantuan 868Nm of torque. Consider that the most powerful car ever made in this country, the HSV GTS R W1 also had a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 and you can see where this is all going. Until you also consider that the HSV had ‘just’ 474kW and 815Nm. Oh dear. Of course, the Jeep is hauling around 2.4 tonnes, but for our money, that only makes the whole idea crazier.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

The heart of the performance is the 2.4-litre belt-driven supercharger which can produce a maximum of 11.6 pounds of boost (in this application, anyway, but we’re sure the tuners of this world will be able to liberate a bit more). To withstand that, the engine has a forged crankshaft, forged pistons, stronger con-rods and old-school hot-rodding tricks like sodium-filled exhaust valves for heat management. Jeep has even deleted the fog-lights of the standard Grand Cherokee and uses the openings to get more cooling air into the engine. There’s an engine-oil cooler in the direct path of that air.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is your only option and gone is the transfer-case and low ratios of the more prosaic Grand Cherokees. In is the on-demand all-wheel-drive system lifted from the SRT version that allows the Trackhawk to behave, more or less, as a rear-driver until any wheel-slip is detected, and incorporates a limited-slip rear differential. There’s also a stronger rear axle which is a good move considering the vehicle’s launch control function.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

There are five driving modes built into the driveline (Auto, Track, Snow, Tow and Sport) and these control the mapping of the throttle, torque-split, gearshift points and even the stability control thresholds. With the speed potential of the Trackhawk, Jeep has wisely upgraded the braking package to a full Brembo set-up with giant 400mm front rotors and six-piston front calipers. Adaptive Bilstein dampers join the roll-call of high-end componentry.

You’ll spot the Trackhawk by its body kit and its bonnet with twin nostrils. There’s also a specific quad tail-pipe design, 20-inch alloy wheels and Pirelli tyres in a huge 295/45 ZR20 fitment.

What’s the interior like?

Jeep has made an effort to make the Trackhawk’s interior stand out from the Grand Cherokee pack, and part of that has been to incorporate extra soft-touch materials. There are also a few high-tech looking chrome and carbon finishes scattered around the cabin, but the big tell-tale that this is something different is the central tachometer that dominates the instrument display. A speedometer calibrated to 320km/h is the back-up clue in case you’re stupid. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is another racy touch that actually works well.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

And, like plenty of modern supercars that don’t weight the best part of 2.5 tonnes, the Jeep gets an 8.4-inch display unit that can be configured to show a huge array of readouts, performance timers and virtual gauge displays. Included in that repertoire is a virtual dynamometer that gives the driver real-time readouts on how much horsepower and torque the engine is making. Gimmick? Probably.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

Of more use once the novelty has worn off is the Nappa leather and suede seating with Trackhawk embossing and an inbuilt heating and cooling function. That’s matched to leather stitched door trims, plush floor mats, a killer stereo and even noise-cancelling technology that operates through the stereo. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both part of the deal.

The other news is that the typically-US cheesy graphics are gone, replaced by a more high-end look and feel. Not before time.

What’s it like on the road?

Our test drive was an all-too brief session at the fast Philip Island race-circuit. So, as far as ride quality and general refinement goes, we’ll have to wait for a real-world test when we get a Trackhawk to ourselves for a while. But what we can tell you is that all 700 horsepower seem to be present and accounted for.

The launch-control, in particular, is a total hoot. You don’t need any fancy techniques, either; just stomp on the brake pedal with your left foot, floor the throttle pedal until the engine has built up boost and then sidestep the brakes. At which point the Jeep will squat in the rear end, briefly torch all four tyres and your hat will end up in the back seat as the thing takes off unlike any other 2.4-tonne bison we’ve ever experienced. If you can do it without laughing like a loon, you should be stone-walling for a living. And while that kind of treatment should make the mechanical sympathist in you wince a little, the Jeep gives no indication that it’s suffering at the hands of this sort of mis-treatment. For its part, Jeep reckons it has performed 2000 back-to-back launch-control starts without breaking anything.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

Down the main straight at Philip Island, the Trackhawk gives the impression that it is never going to stop accelerating. The shunt is absolutely brutal and from outside, there’s a glorious thudding racket as the V8 gets into the boost and starts grunting hard.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

Predictably, however, this isn’t a track-day car and with its 2399kg carried high, even the specific 295-wide Pirelli tyres can’t turn it into a ballerina. The Track mode blunts the intervention of the ESP, but doesn’t turn it off altogether, but even before it starts to think about stepping in, the Trackhawk can get a bit lively in corners. You really need to be gentle with your steering inputs to get it to change line and eventually turn-in, while the best strategy for exiting a turn is to get everything squared-up and straight before getting back into those Newton-metres.

An emergency swerve manoeuvre will have the Jeep lifting its inside-front wheel and generally wobbling about a bit, although it never gets completely out of hand thanks to the ESP program. And while it steers predictably, the actual steering ratio is SUV-slow.

What about safety features?

Let’s not kid each other here. With that can’t-ignore-it weighbridge ticket and a potential top speed of 289km/h, the Jeep Trackhawk should not be left within reach of kids or those of a nervous disposition.

The big brakes and selectable driving modes ill all help keep the thing shiny-side-up, but beyond that, Jeep has added all the usual suspects when it comes to driver aids. There’s adaptive cruise-control, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, forward collision warning and crash mitigation, lane-departure warning, autonomous braking, pedestrian-recognition and front and rear park-assist.

The reverse camera can also be switched on at speed to let you check that the caravan hasn’t fallen off (because you won’t notice through any change in the acceleration rate) and, to keep hotel staff safe from themselves, there’s a comprehensive valet model that, among other things, disables the launch-control function. Enough said.

So, what do we think?

Fundamentally, the Jeep Trackhawk is a life-support system for an engine. And no matter how good the rest of the deal is (and Jeep has tried hard with monster brakes and one-off tyres) the engine of this thing will outrun any of its other systems. No prizes for having seen that coming. Nor for figuring out that’s exactly why it will sell.

2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk Review

Editor's Rating

First Drive Rating
Practical Motoring says: The world needs the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk like Jay Leno needs a bus pass. But in an age where one-upmanship has become a science and standing out is the new black, we can see why Jeep has bothered to make the world’s most powerful production SUV. We've held off giving the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk a complete rating until we've had a chance to drive it in the real-world...our time with it was limited to some short race track-based exercises.

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